In May of this year (2022), The Great American Seed Up reported on predictions of impending worldwide grain shortages and rising food prices. We have seen these predictions played out this summer, although there are some reasons for hope on the horizon. If you want to review a summary of the problems, read on. If you prefer to skip to the positives and action steps, scroll down to GOOD NEWS.
Russia and Ukraine: The war in Ukraine, known as Europe’s breadbasket, has severely pinched the world supply of grain and cooking oil. Prior to the conflict, 98% of Ukraine’s grain exports were transported via the Black Sea, which Russian ships blockaded in February, triggering a global food crisis. Under a deal signed in July, Russia agreed to a maritime “humanitarian corridor” free of military vessels through which cargo ships could move grain out of Ukrainian ports via the Black Sea. The first grain shipment allowed to leave Odessa port following the deal departed Ukraine on August 1st.
Currently, Russian grain and fertilizer exports are outpacing Ukrainian exports through the Black Sea. But should the balance shift, it is unclear whether the blockade on shipments will continue to ease. Additionally, the agreement is set to last for 120 days, which may not be long enough to ship all the grain backed up in Ukraine’s silos ahead of the coming harvest. And hesitance by insurance companies to insure merchant ships entering the Black Sea corridor does not help the situation.
Ukraine’s Particular Importance: According to the United Nations, prior to the war, Ukraine and Russia were the first- and third-largest global wheat exporters. The role played by Ukrainian agricultural produce in international food security should not be underestimated. Long known as the breadbasket of Europe, Ukraine has in recent years become an important source of grains worldwide. On the eve of the Russian invasion, it was estimated that Ukraine was providing food for as many as 400 million people around the world. Ukrainian officials stated in early 2022 that this figure would rise to a billion by 2030, representing around one in nine people on the planet.
The war reversed this growth. Government estimates currently expect that Ukraine could harvest approximately 50 million tons of grain this year, compared to 86 million tons in 2021, due to the loss of land to Russian forces and diminished grain yields.
Precariously Low Supplies: Global hunger has increased from 135 million people acutely food insecure in 2019 to 345 million in 2022 (according to the World Food Program.) 50 million of those are edging on famine. Ukrainian grain, in particular, is vital to millions of people in Africa, parts of the Middle East and South Asia, who are already facing food shortages and, in some cases, famine.
Protectionism: To make matters worse, scarcity and inflation are spurring countries to put export controls in place. At this writing, 14 countries are implementing protectionist measures, banning wheat exports in an attempt to prevent domestic shortages and stabilize rising food prices.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world: Argentina is experiencing its third straight year of La Nina weather conditions, which create a complex planting scenario. Farmers are choosing to plant barley as a winter crop because they expect a lower degree of government intervention in barley markets. And many farmers have planted soybeans rather than a combo of wheat and soy due to lower production costs. Drought and low temperatures have delayed wheat planting and crop progress, and yields are expected to be lower than usual.
U.S. farmers face high prices for supplies: Fertilizer, seed and other agricultural products needed to raise crops are as much as four times higher this year than last, while crop prices have roughly doubled.
United States Food Price Index: According to the USDA Retail Food Price Outlook, food prices were 10.4% higher on average in June 2022 than they were in June 2021. Coming in 2023, food-at-home prices are predicted to increase between 2.0 and 3.0 percent, and food-away-from-home prices are predicted to increase between 3.0 and 4.0 percent. USDA ERS – Summary Findings
Hunger Relief: The first humanitarian ship chartered by the UN World Food Program to transport Ukrainian grain left Odesa ports bound for Ethiopia on August 16. https://www.wfp.org/stories/bulk-carrier-sets-ukraine-grain-wfp-first-start-war
North America: The USDA report for August 2022 shows that the Canadian Prairies have received ample rains this growing season to recover from the devasting drought in 2021/22, increasing production by 13.3 metric tons. The U.S. Northern Plains and Pacific Northwest have recovered from major drought last year, although year-to-year growth in production is constrained by drought in the Southern Plains. Despite this, the United States is projected to increase wheat production 3.7 metric tons in 2022/23 from last year. Wheat Outlook: August 2022 (usda.gov)
Focus on Saving Seeds: Food shortages and rising food costs tend to trigger a rush to buy garden seeds. High demand triggers scarcity and drives up prices. One of the best things we can do is save seeds from our own gardens and share them with others.
The Great American Seed Up is working hard to support gardeners with the seeds they need to improve their own food security. We recently released a new Baker’s Bundle comprised of 7 different wheat varieties – enough seed to divide into generous portions for 10 people.
Survival Seed Bundle reflects a collection of seed varieties we would want if supply chains were interrupted and we could not get seeds from our trusted suppliers. We have chosen seeds that are long-standing favorites, nutritionally dense, and provide lots of diversity. These seeds are also easy to save which increases both the number of potential seeds over time and the value. With at least 300 of our generous portions and a Seed Saving Book, this bundle offers a perfect start for any gardener after an emergency.
GASU also has several other bundles of vegetable and flower seeds to help you stock up and keep your garden growing. Get your seeds here.
1LaCapria, K. (2022, May 23). ’10 Weeks of Wheat’ in Global Reserves? Truth or Fiction? Retrieved May 24, 2022, from https://www.truthorfiction.com/10-weeks-of-wheat-in-global-reserves/
2Hays, Ron. “Nationwide, Winter Wheat Was Rated 28% Good to Excellent, the Lowest Such Rating since the Drought of 1989 Ro.” Oklahoma Farm Report – Nationwide, Winter Wheat Was Rated 28% Good to Excellent, the Lowest Such Rating since the Drought of 1989, 23 May 2022, http://www.oklahomafarmreport.com/wire/news/2022/05/02755_CropProgress05232022_163658.php#.YozmO6jMI7c.
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